×

Film Review: ‘My Love, Don’t Cross That River’

South Korea's most successful indie feature ever is a documentary about "100-year-old lovebirds."

With:
Byoungman Jo, Gyeyeul Kang.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4063314/

A celebration of very longterm marital contentment, “My Love, Don’t Cross That River” portrays the blissful kinship of true soulmates in their nineties when we meet them — a juncture at which Death does not spare meeting them, either. Moyoung Jin’s documentary hit a sentimental sweet spot on home turf, becoming South Korea’s most successful independent theatrical feature (fictive or otherwise) ever. Cultural differences and less potent later progress are likely to make this undeniably charming vérité romance have a much smaller Stateside imprint as it rolls out in NYC cinemas June 17, and Greater Los Angeles ones the following week. But it should do very well as a home-formats item within Korean-American communities, perhaps even enjoying crossover traffic to ethnically unaffiliated senior markets, primarily via broadcast sales.

“100-year-old lovebirds” Byoungman Jo and Gyeyeul Chang are already somewhat famous for their devotional longevity when we first glimpse them after 75 years of marriage. They’re cute as kittens — and despite their advanced ages, nearly as playful, with a relationship that could hardly be more visibly still in the stages of “first love.” (We see them good-naturedly pranking one another with leaf, water and snow “fights,” amongst other hijinks outside their rural home.) They wed in the late 1930s, when he was an orphan hired to work in her parents’ smithery.

Decades later, children visit, some now grandparents themselves. But when the health of one twee elder declines, the other must figure out how to go on after the inseparable duo is separated.

“My Love” is charming, but not always convincing in equal measure. There’s a certain air of suspicious contrivance: Do the lead characters really always wear such pristine, loudly colored silks to do yard work and so forth? In that and other ways, they sometimes seem to playing up for the camera — or rather Jin seems to be semi-staging an idyll of long-shelf-life love high on adorability and low on conflict. The subjects (reportedly shot over 15 months’ course) appear magically oblivious to the presence of a film crew, without being the least bit senile. Like grandparents who put on a show of folksy sweetness when the youngsters show up — or like a lot of reality TV — “My Love” tugs at the emotions with a practiced grip.

At least in this case, those emotions tapped are sentimentally tender rather than gloating and cynical. It’s a sweet movie — just not not wholly a “documentary” to whose reality you’d necessarily trust your own grandmother when depositing her at the rest home. There, one would require a little less treacly salesmanship, and a little more verified fact-checking. It’s not that “My Love” feels inherently dubious; it’s that its execution is just a little too smiling-through-tears slick to be swallowed whole.

Film Review: 'My Love, Don't Cross That River'

Reviewed at Hot Docs, April 27, 2015. (Also in Visions du Réel, Los Angeles, London film festivals.) Running time: 86 MIN. (Original title: “Nim-ah, Geu Gang-eool Geon-neo-ji Mao”)

Production: (Documentary — S. Korea) A Film Movement release of a Deemyung Culture Factory presentation of an Angus Film production. Produced by Kyungsoo Han. Executive producer, Junhyuck Seo.

Crew: Directed, written by Moyoung Jin. Camera (color, HD), Jin; editor, Jinsik Hyun; music, Minu Jung; sound, Heeku Jung, Jeeun Kim; assistant director, Jeongjun Lee.

With: Byoungman Jo, Gyeyeul Kang.

More Film

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content